Wednesday, 29 April 2020
Wowsa - it feel likes forever ago since i wrote one of these columns in the ODT A lots has passed since then, a lot of stress and anxiety - but a few wins along the way too.
This pandemic has reminded us what is real. It has reminded us what is important. I’ve learnt a lot - i have a lot of emotions, so i thought why not write down a running diary of how the Roslyn Pharmacy has coped - it will be therapeutic for me and I hope, interesting for you.
Where to start? - lets start waaaaay back to....
4 January 2020 - the WHO tweets about a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, China - the world gives a combined ‘shrugged shoulders’ emoji and carries on ( I was in our holiday home in Bannockburn following the Cricket - NZ v Aus in Australia! For the first time in 20 years! I mean how do you not show up for that Black Caps... argh!)
10 Jan : WHO issues guidance on ‘Coronavirus’
13 Jan : Reports of first case outside of China - Thailand
31 Jan : First case reported in Italy
4 Feb : The cruise ship the Diamond Princess is quarantined off Yokohama theres corona virus on board and 11 New Zealanders
11 Feb 20 : Awww... the baby virus has a name - World meet COVID-19
27 Feb : Dinner at my Mums! My mum is the absolute best. Every week we come to her place for a fantastic Chinese meal and we discuss what’s been happening in our worlds. Mums information sources these days is usually dominated by the Chinese TV news. Chinese news is like western news, only 100 times more sensational, theres always 3 people on a panel screaming at (or over) each other in Chinese (made worse as my Mum is partially deaf so the volume is turned WAY up) During this time 98% of its content is about COVID, the remaining 2% is real estate ads, advertising Auckland property. She is concerned. The virus seems to effect those over 70 and especially those with pre existing conditions. She does appear to tick every darn box. I tell her not to worry, its not in NZ - lets talk about it again when or if it does.
28 Feb : First case in NZ - Patient flying back from Iran. I call Mum . ‘Don’t worry Mum’ i say in my grown up Pharmacist voice ‘there is a case in NZ, but its an isolated case in Auckland’ “Call your brothers” she’s responds. Two of my older brothers Dave and Tim are Doctors in Auckland, we have planned a family trip up to Auckland in May as Daves youngest daughter turns 5. We call Dave - ‘Cancel your flights ‘ he says, ‘dont come up’ Amy and I synchronize a frightened look at each other and an anxious gulp. Shit is getting real. Meanwhile in Cricket the Black Caps are just about to sweep the worlds number 1 team, India 3-0 in test match - I mean who can explain the world at the moment??
7 March : 100 000 cases in the world Number of cases in NZ: 5 - all related to overseas travel. At work - its all we talk about - the previous small talk favorites, Weather and even sport are pushed to the side. Sanitiser, face masks and thermometers are all running out of stock. We reserve some for the Pharmacy staff ‘just in case’ Amy finds a couple of boxes of N95 masks we kept aside during the old swine flu pandemic, Our Son Josh tells us to put them up on Trade Me - capitalist Dad is proud, but we dont.
12 March : WHO announces a Global Pandemic. This is the first since 1918. I read the news on an Guardian post on Instagram - i tag Jacinda Ardern on the post and comment “Hi! Random Nzer here - love your work btw, but this needs decisive action, now. Our little island nation has an incredible advantage here - but we need some courage - if we can control the incidence here and stop travel here (get our kiwis home first - all returnees self-isolate) then we good. Offer our poor tourism industry some tax breaks/insurance so they get though this. You got this, be brave, thanks for listening.“
13 March : Black Caps play Australia in an empty stadium at the Sydney Cricket Ground. Its unusual to watch. The result is not unusual though - they lose. (Im kidding - you know i love (and miss) you most of all Cricket) The rest of the tour is cancelled when Jacinda announces tight restrictions on travel in and out of NZ - ‘whoa’ i think to myself - ‘she actually read my post’
17 March : My Son Joshs 17th Birthday, Its also our Senior Pharmacy technician Sarah’s 60th birthday she and her husband Stu are in Europe to celebrate, she sends some chocolate and other goodies from Harrods to the Pharmacy for morning tea - its a welcome treat because work has been insanely busy - and is getting busier by the day. There is a case at Logan Park High School and he and his father are the 11th and 12th case in NZ and the first 2 cases in Dunedin. I go to work early, and dont get back till quite late - i see Josh for in total 20 minutes on his birthday - I apologize, but he gets it. I get it - We all get it. This really is unprecedented in our lifetimes. Panic buying of toilet paper is the joke of the day
18 March : After another busy day at work I attend a meeting with the local Doctors from the Helensburgh, Amity, Roslyn and Maori Hill Health Centre’s - the HARM network - the first order of business at the meeting is sort out the terrible acronym we use. We commit to the CHARM network ( ‘C’ for chemist - I’m happy to contribute to this amazing team of people) Everyone is busy. These guys have been absolute hero’s in our community. They have been gowning up in PPE (personal protective equipment) testing patients - risking their lives. I’m proud to be working with this lot - they’re great people and they really care for their patients. I ask them to help us by reducing their prescribing - we are getting slammed - unless really necessary. I leave this meeting feeling confident and assured that our Doctors have our back. But shit scared all the same - these guys know what’s coming and the room felt gloomy.
19 March : Joshs birthday dinner at one of our faves No.7 Balmac. Joshs new girlfriend was supposed to attend, but throws a sickie. Its always packed here, but not tonight. We savor every delicious bite. ‘This may be it for awhile guys’. Over dinner it turns out that one of the kids closest friends at run training had to be tested for COVID as he goes to Logan Park, once again Amy and I synchronize a worried look at each other... ‘Oh cool’ our only reply. My Mum and Amys Mum dont attend. We’ve placed them into isolation - doing what we do, we heartbreakingly tell them we cant be together for a while. Luckily we have FaceTime.
20 March : Radio NZ reports ‘Flights into NZ are getting cancelled left, right and centre - NZers struggle to get home’ Work hasn’t let up. I’m exhausted. I’m fragile, My community is worried. My Staff is worried. Ive been trying to put on a brave face at work and with the kids at home - but this was the straw that broke me, i think of Sarah still in Europe and i have a full on panic attack - Where is she?, I need her here - she’s always been such a calming and wise voice in the Pharmacy for me - i need her strength, lord please get her home safely. When things are so out of your control - in almost every aspect - its scary. But I have Amy and i am safe I have a full on cry. Josh walks in - i dont stop. Its the Friday before Otago Anniversary weekend, the Fridays before a long weekend are always busy. This one though is off the charts. The Fax machine doesn’t stop, we joke at work about being like Christmas Eve without anything to good. My staff are amazing - they have been true superstars. After work we jump in the car - we are heading back to our happy place, Bannockburn - not for a rest though - we need to work on our pandemic plan.
21st March: All cases of COVID in NZ have been traceable to overseas travel... until today. Everyone now talking about the community spread. There’s a total of 52 cases. Jacinda announces the 4 levels Action Plan. We Are in level 2. Where to begin on our Pandemic Plan? The Pharmacy Guild of NZ sent through a basic plan - but theres not much to work with. We come up with some of our principles 1) Protect our patients 2) Protect our staff 3) Protect our partners by ensuring continuity of supply and 4) Protect our community. Who to call for advice? This one was easy - I called one of my best friends through Pharmacy School, Maria. On my first day of Pharmacy school I was lucky enough to have Maria as my lab partner and she came to that lab SO prepared, she had done all the pre-reading, her notes were beautifully presented, her lab coat immaculate. Our conversations usually go like this...
ME: ’So, ol’buddy.. what did you get for x?’
MARIA : ‘I Got y and z
ME: (writing furiously) Same.
She was a great source of Info and we helped each other out. Bridget our, Pharmacist suggested a split shift system. This was to ensure continuity of supply as if one or team members went down with COVID - we would all have to go into isolation. This was not a scenario we were happy with. At the time this was suggested we balked at the idea - but this was now our reality. We had to.
So we spent several hours splitting our staff into two teams Josh our dispensary manager would lead the GOLD team and i would lead the BLUE team. We mapped out how the store would work in the coming weeks. We brainstormed several ideas - we came up with a slot in the window that could work like at the ticket booths outside Forsyth Barr - Great idea - but how do we get it to work? We remembered that one of the Dads at the kids athletics was the manager at Design Windows, we got his number and frantically called him ‘Can you do this? - I need it by Wednesday’ He got the measurements and got it done. It was a ridiculously tight time frame - but he got it done. When the chips are down and you need help - your local community is there. Dunedin is awesome like this.
22nd March : Sarah is home. A huge weight is lifted. She needs to self isolate for 14 days. We post our Pandemic plan to the team over Slack our communication board. They agree to the plan - two teams 3 days on, 4 days off hours 8-9pm. We action the Plan at level 3. We had two new staff members starting over this time, we had to get them in for training. We made plans for this. We were happy.
While the Pharmacy was ridiculously busy, Project Wellness our cafe next the Pharmacy had pretty much stopped operating. At Level 3 we would close its doors.
23rd March : On the way back from Bannockburn Jacinda announced that level 3 would start effective 11.59pm that night and that Level 4 would Start Thursday. So much for the training plan! - We rushed home, got into the Pharmacy to prepare for Level 3 and 4. We zapped into Kmart to grab some sign holders and spray bottles for our cleaning alcohol , Jian from Project Wellness designed some posters for us to put up, and we spent all night rearranging the store. We went home for a couple of hours to meet up with Keith and Helen from the Mornington Pharmacy and Paul from Larsons Pharmacy in Green Island to discuss our plans. My main motivation to meet them was to secure an agreement that if both our GOLD and BLUE teams went down, that they would look our patients. We all agreed we would help each out. I am very grateful for the friendship ive developed with these guys. Pharmacy is hard work - but I’m always happier after hanging out with them
24th March: First day of the split teams and limited entry. These next 2 days were so incredibly tough. Gold team were rostered to work, so our workforce was effectively halved and everyone and their dog (not a joke) wanted 3 months supply of medicine before Level 4 started. It was very important that our two teams were not compromised by being with each other so I stood outside trying to help them. The Fax machine did not stop. The telephone lines were overloaded. People rushed in looking for scripts that the poor guys had no chance of completing. I was outside helpless and my staff were drowning inside. This was so incredibly hard. I wasn’t much use outside so i went home and paced around home until they finished their shift at 9pm - Once Gold team was gone I went in - My Son Josh moved a computer into Project Wellness and i tried to get through as much as I could until 3am. Ive been a Pharmacist for 20 years, ive mastered the art of dispensing - you are essentially getting peak production me - i spent 6 hours in there and bearly made a dent into the pile of faxes. It was overwhelming.
25th March : Still not rostered on - but dying to help, I spent the day in the now closed Project Wellness working communications for the Pharmacy staff but i was more hindrance than help - i felt so bad for my staff - remember, there was some new staff that had just started, our workforce was halved and we had the busiest two days in the 120 plus years of the Pharmacys history. They worked so incredibly hard for these 48 hours. My Pharmacy technician Jodie and I went to work at 9pm again, once the gold team left. Once again we stayed till 3am - once again we barely made a dent. There was now 205 cases of COVID in NZ. I had in my diary that i was supposed to talk to the local Travel club today. I had prepared a tour-de-force presentation of our trip to Peru last year. Overseas travel seems light years away right now
26th March : Level 4 Lockdown starts and Me my Blue team are in. We are jumping and cant wait to start! We look after so many vulnerable in our community and we had to ensure that we were able to get these people their medicines. Luckily Josh and a few of his John McGlashan mates had an early start to their holiday, so we had a fleet of Johnnies boys with their new driver’s licenses keen to hit the lockdowned roads - they were awesome and we want to thank them for their help. Amongst the chaos of scripts everywhere was the new importance of hygiene. Do we wear masks? Gloves? Most of us wore masks and a few of us tried gloves but decided it was too hard to dispense - instead every 30 minutes we washed our hands. We were getting emails, phone calls, faxes, Facebook messengers from everywhere still. And the stock was running out! - Tamu our Pharmacist was mentioning that in Australia her niece wasn’t able to get Ventolin, a crucial asthmatic medicine - we laughed it off but in 24 hours time our wholesaler wasn’t able to supply us some crucial asthma medicines and crucial diabetic medicines. Suddenly, this was no longer a laughing matter. We posted a video update on Facebook on how we are doing and we want our ‘Roslyn Pharmacy bubble’ to stay safe - it was so well received - everyone has been so kind and grateful and understanding - it was been truly humbling.
27th March : PHARMAC announce a raft of changes to help Pharmacy, including a return to monthly dispensing. Soon enough stock control goes back to normal - but it was a close run thing - phew! Our Pharmacist Josh gets a COVID test as he feels unwell. My heart sinks a little.
28th March: We finally had the guts to check our 100s of backlogged phone messages - 80% of which were enquiries about the Flu vaccinations. Turns out the doctors were running out. We managed to order a fridge full before lockdown - but there was no way we were able to administer them, we loaned some out to the Doctors but we were keen to help out. Amy organizes a Drive-thru vaccination clinic in the car park for Saturday the 4th, Jian organizes an online booking program through Facebook and in moments we are are fully booked, this was great but we had never done this before and we had no idea how it will work!
29th March :Sunday so have a few days off now - things are settling down now that lockdown is fully established. But i wake up with a terribly sore throat - i start to freak out a little, and then feel like my chest was tight too. Like everyone would i start to freak out a little... i google the symptoms of COVID-19 and sore throat and chest tightness are there - darn you Dr Google! I dont feel unwell - there’s no fever, so i stay quiet. Later in the day I read an article on asymptomatic patients spreading the disease - panic sets in - what if i do have COVID and i go to work and spread it all around Roslyn - this cant happen! As I’m freaking out the tightness in my chest becomes more of a burning fire and the throat is so irritated I’m starting to cough. Crap!! this is either for sure 100% COVID and I’m going to be on ONE News next week for being the key patient zero in a Roslyn Pharmacy cluster or ive got heartburn from the stress. So i pop a Losec, cross my fingers and in 20 minutes like a miracle I’m cured. Pharmacist Josh’s COVID result is back too- its negative - yay!! - but has been told as per current protocol he cant work for 2 weeks - boooo! That leaves Nyva as the only Pharmacist on the Gold team, and just like that - my heartburn returns.
30th March :Gold team is decimated, and they are rostered on. I get on the phone to call the medical officer of health to clarify how long Josh needs to stand down for. Having him away for 14 days right now seems devastating. Turns out they revised their protocols over the weekend - once Josh feels better for 48 hours he can return to work. He’s back the next day.
4th April : 950 cases of COVID now in NZ - 82 new cases today Every new number was irrelevant until 14 days after lockdown i tell myself. Family out in force today for the Drive thru vaccine clinic - Josh Ella and Amy borrow a few road cones on the way to work to help set up the Clinic. We had 200 vaccines to administer to our most vulnerable in our community and we had 2 vaccinators Tamu and Kristen ( a nurse vaccinator who offered to help) and some Red Cross volunteers to help out just in case.
It works...beautifully - the kids are a great help and its a crisp and beautiful autumnal Dunedin Day. This was such a success we repeat it the next Saturday - thats 400 flu vaccines to the most vulnerable in our community - really proud of our effort! (We returned the cones afterwards promise!)
5th April :- Its Sunday afternoon and a few of the guys on the street are having a socially distant beer, these guys are the best - so its great to see them. It quickly becomes apparent how lucky we are. We are still trading. We are still seeing colleagues and laughing at work. So many are not. Yes It has been busy. Yes It has been stressful but we have a sense of normality.
23rd April :Over the next few weeks we get into our new routines and it goes well. The lockdown has been a huge success - with NZ reaching COVID numbers that the world are envious of. 3 new cases today all from known sources. So good! Some opinion writers and commentators talk about the impact the lockdown has had on the economy and how its been an overreaction. How absurd! We should celebrate our successes and i know we will soon! Tonight on One News is a piece entitled ‘Pharmacies on the brink of collapse as Covid-19 lockdown continues’ We get texts from friends and family, worried about us. To us the equation is simple - ‘economy's recover - dead people dont. You get slammed for ‘over reacting’ and get slammed for ‘under reacting’
Can’t win for some people - my solution - stop watching the news.
28th April: We go down a level to lockdown 3 - it is a spectacular day in Dunners. We welcome people back in store - limit of 2! Whilst there is a feeling of relief, theres also a sense of trepidation - we haven’t finished yet - there’s still so much more to do.
Who knows what life will look like post COVD. We need to learn and grow from every challenge. But what i do know is that I will :
Keep looking after yourself, your family and each other. I cant wait to see you in store soon.
Andrew - 29 April 2020